What is Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre, which means Five Lands, is a collection of 5 villages in the Italian Riveria. These 5 villages are Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso and Riomaggiore. While these villages are not the peaceful, quiet hamlets they once were, they nonetheless continue to be jaw-droppingly stunning. A visit to the 5 villages must be part of anyone’s trip to Italy! Quite possibly, they are one of the most beautiful regions in one of the most beautiful countries of the world! Swimming in the Mediterranean seas, eating fresh seafood, sipping wine while watching the sunset on the beautiful turquoise waters, and hiking along the beautiful mountains in the Cinque Terre National Park… I guarantee that Cinque Terre is an experience you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
Where is Cinque Terre?
The Italian Riveria, crescent-shaped region in northwest Italy, is a stunning strip of coastal land between the South of France and the Tuscany province. It is dotted with colourful villages, lined along rugged mountains, turquoise Mediterranean sea and stunning beaches. See map on the right. It is here that you will find the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Cinque Terre.
How to get there? The closest airports are Genoa (1 hour away), Florence (3 hours away) or Milan (3 hours). I flew into Florence and then took a train to Cinque Terre. Regardless of which of these major cities you come from, you will arrive at La Spezia, which is the largest train station in the Cinque Terre National Park. From La La Spezia you will then have to take a local train to go one of the 5 main towns in Cinque Terre.
Travel Tip: Getting from one Cinque Terre town to the next is pretty easy. Trains run frequently. However, the trains can get very crowded during peak holiday times, summer months and weekends. I recommend that you plan to and depart on weekdays when the crowds are far fewer. During weekends, do your hikes and stay put in one town.
Travel Tip: Regardless of how you get there, I highly recommend buying a Cinque Terre Card which includes the use of Cinque Terre National Park shuttle passes, access to all the hiking trails and discounts with some restaurants. You can buy it online or at Cinque Terre train stations.
I started my tour of Cinque Terre in Manarola, which is the second town in the 5 villages circuit, coming from the south.
Manarola was built on a rock 70 metres above sea level and is one of the most romantic of the Cinque Terre villages. Everything here is quaint. Small harbour, a small town square (piazza) with cute restaurants, narrow arrow alleys to meander around in… All is picture perfect here! There is no real beach here so you will have to get one of the other towns if you want to swim in the sea.
Travel Tip: What makes the town even more charming are the intricately carved network of terraces that have been built along the mountains and tended to by locals for centuries. It is lined with olive trees, fruit trees and vineyards. The vineyards in Manarola produce a local specialty wine, the Cinque Terre Sciacchetra. Also, a must is a short hike up the hill to Punta Bonfiglio, which has fantastic views of the harbour (see photo above). The Church of San Lorenzo, built in 1338 in a Gothic Ligurian style and which also served as a defence tower, is also up the hill and worth checking out.
Corniglia is in the middle of the 5 villages and is the only town not accessible by boat. You can get there by hiking or by a local train. Of the 5, this is the town that is lowest on my list. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It is still a beautiful village!
To get to here, you have to climb the Lardarina, a steep climb of 377 steps, which is what I did. Or you can take a shuttle bus, which is free with the Cinque Terre card. I recommend that you do the 377 step hike because the views as you ascend are worth it. There are places you can rest along the way.
Check out the photo below of the colourful homes of Corniglia.
Vernazza, founded in 1000 A.D., is probably the most beautiful of the five villages. I mean look at the photo below! It is often lauded as one of the most villages in all of Italy! There are a couple of ways to get here. You can get there by boat or by hiking. I hiked from Corniglia and I recommend doing this because the scenery is spectacular! The hike is about 2 hours, depending on how fast you are. Be warned though that the hike is hilly, with uneven and unpaved paths. Make sure you have good shoes on. There is a small cafe between the towns. Make sure to go in and go to the window at the back. The view of the harbour is breathtaking.
Monterosso, the largest of the 5 villages, is divided into two parts: the new part of the town called Fegina and the old town of Monterosso.
My favourite part about Monterosso was the beach! Monterosso has the only extensive sandy beach in all of Cinque Terre. The beaches can get quite busy on weekends but thankfully, it runs along most of the coastline so it never feels overcrowded.
Riomaggiore is the easternmost village and I recommend you come here by boat. The reason is that it has a really beautiful harbour. Most of Riomaggiore is squeezed into a narrow, steep valley, with beautiful, tall, colourful houses on both sides of the harbour. Because of how the buildings are placed, the village makes a picture perfect scenery from the boat.
You can also get here by car and there is a parking lot where you can leave your car but it is somewhat small and jam-packed on weekends.